Following some of the outrageous refereeing decisions at previous World Cups, such as Frank Lampard’s goal that wasn’t against Germany in 2010, VAR (virtual assistant referee) was brought in to try and make sure such controversial decisions didn’t happen again. However, the big question is, has VAR worked so far at the 2018 World Cup?
To be fair, having to make split second decisions in the heat of battle means a referee’s life has never an easy one. Especially, when an army of football pundits armed with multiple-angled slow-motion replays are waiting to rip the crap out of those decisions.
However, VAR has now been implemented to give the referees access to the technology that pundits have had access to for years. Therefore, during every match at the 2018 World Cup, four top FIFA Match Officials stationed in Moscow’s centralised video operation room have access to 33 broadcasting cameras (eight of which are slow-motion cameras), two offside cameras, and a 3D Offside Line System. These officials are only there to try and help the referee make the correct decision though – and the referee still has the final say.
In order to make this final decision, the VAR team can suggest the referee takes a look at the on-field monitor for:
Goals – Offside interference/foul committed by an attacking player
Penalties – Foul leading to penalty/foul by attacking player
All Instant Red Card Incidents
The VAR team may also relay information via the referee’s ear-piece for:
Goals – Possible offsides or ball out of play prior to a goal.
Penalties – Foul occurred inside or outside penalty box, ball out of play, offside
Cases of Mistaken Identity
Okay, so let’s take a look at some of the most controversial VAR moments at the World Cup so far.
Sweden vs South Korea
Joel Aguilar would have been the first referee to make a potentially match-changing wrong decision at the 2018 World Cup, when he waved away appeals for a penalty when Kim Min-woo blatantly brought down Viktor Claesson in the penalty box. The VAR team was on the ball though, suggesting Aguilar checked the replay on the on-field monitor. Aguilar reviewed the footage and duly came to the same decision that everyone else had – penalty! Andreas Granqvist then stepped-up and scored a goal that earned Sweden an all-important 1-0 win.
England vs Tunisia
For football fans who also enjoy a bit of WWF-style wrestling, the England vs Tunisia game must have been an absolute thriller. England were 1-0 ahead when Kyle Walker’s tangle with Ben Youssef led to a penalty for Tunisia. The referee had no doubt at all that Walker’s actions were deserving of awarding Tunisia a penalty, and he didn’t even consult VAR. But, the panel of pundits were not unanimous as to whether the referee’s decision was correct. However, they were unanimous in agreeing that the way Harry Kane was subsequently wrestled to the ground twice in the penalty area was at least as worthy of a penalty and, arguably, both were more cast-iron cases than Walker’s earlier tangle. The fact that VAR did not draw the attention of the referee to these instances smacked of inconsistency.
Spain vs Iran
Spain emerged 1-0 winners over Iran in their second group game, but not before VAR was used to make what could prove a critical decision to Spain’s chances of topping Group B. Spain were leading 1-0 when Ezatolahi seemingly scored the equaliser for Iran, but VAR highlighted a very marginal offside during the move that lead to the goal. It would have been a very difficult decision for a linesman to make with his naked eye, but the 3D offside line system clearly showed that there was an offside.
Denmark vs Australia
Youssef Poulsen’s handball against Australia was one of those decisions that referees used to have to process in an instant. The ball clearly hit Poulsen on the arm whilst Denmark were defending a free-kick, but referee Antonio Mateu obviously had some doubt as to whether the Dane’s arm was in a natural or unnatural position when the ball hit him. Having watched VAR, Mateu quickly made up his mind it was a penalty and Australia equalised to keep their slim hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages alive.
Brazil vs Costa Rica
After an opening draw against Switzerland, Brazil were looking frustrated as their match against Costa Rica stood at 0-0 with the Brazilians having missed several chances. They continued to pile the pressure on the Costa Rican defence, who appeared to have cracked when Neymar looked to have been fouled in the penalty box. The referee instantly pointed to the spot but, after a chat with his VAR team and a check of the replay, he reversed his decision. Of course, Brazil went on to win the match anyway, but this was definitely an incident in which VAR proved useful.
Iceland vs Nigeria
Nigeria may have beaten Iceland 2-0, but it could have been different if Sigurdsson had converted the penalty that Iceland were awarded courtesy of VAR. The Icelanders were looking down and out when the referee failed to award a penalty when Finnbogason was fouled by Ebuehi with just a few minutes left to play. However, VAR stepped in to give them hope of snatching something from the game when the referee reversed his decision and gave the penalty. You can’t blame VAR for the miss though.
Serbia vs Switzerland
If you think Harry Kane was hard done by in the wrestling stakes, then the crowd should have booed the referee’s decision to not award Serbia a penalty when Mitrovic was manhandled to the ground by two Swiss defenders. It was like tag-wrestling when the two bad guys both get in the ring and team-up on the one good guy. One of the defenders wasn’t even looking at the ball. The referee waved play-on, but quite why the VAR team didn’t step-in here is probably the most controversial decision so far, Kane’s wrestling matches has taken place away from the main action, but Mitrovic still managed to get his head on the cross. It should have been a penalty all day every day – I’m sure you’ll agree. This horrendous decision has also probably cost Serbia their place in the knockout stages as, if they’d scored the penalty, they would have gone 2-0 ahead. Instead, they went on to lose the match 2-1 and will now have to beat Brazil to qualify.
Belgium vs Tunisia
Sometimes, confirmation is all everyone wants. That was certainly the case when Belgium were awarded a penalty against Tunisia when the score was 0-0. Hazard was fouled by Ben Youssef and the referee had no hesitation pointing to the penalty spot. However, Youssef protested that the contact was outside the box. VAR confirmed the referee’s decision that the contact had been inside the box – case closed!
Sweden vs Germany
Another horrendous decision that now can’t be overturned is the referee’s failure to award Sweden a penalty when Marcus Berg was clearly fouled by Jerome Boateng when having a clear goal-scoring opportunity against Germany. The referee chose not to consult VAR at all, which was simply a joke. It was a decision that could now cost Sweden their place in the round of 16, as even a draw against Germany, would have given them a tremendous chance of qualifying from Group F at the German’s expense.
England vs Panama
Harry Kane has probably never scored an easier hat-trick but there was a question mark as to whether he was offside when the shot by Loftus Cheek deflected of Kane’s foot and into the Panama net. Of course, England were well and truly on top by then, but it again highlighted just how good the new VAR offside technology is.
What Do You Think of VAR?
VAR has been called a work in progress. One that seems great in some respects and yet so open to controversy in others. The offside technology seems to be working great. It has also been useful in confirming some decisions that may previously have caused controversy. However, quite how VAR has failed to be used to award penalties to Serbia and Sweden quite frankly gets the blood boiling.
Before the 2018 World Cup, some football fans wanted VAR and some didn’t. However, the question is how do you feel about it now? Don’t be shy. Feel free to have a rant or put across some solid arguments for or against the use of VAR. Maybe even come up with a few suggestions about how to improve it. Hey, FIFA may even take them on board.
Let us know what you think, vote in our poll: